In general, Foster’s a pretty quiet dude. He’s very settled at competitions, quietly watches paddocks of horses go galloping around, and is A-Okay with being a couch in the arena.
However, he does also have a spook in him. Sometimes it’s legitimate, like when a bird suddenly flies in his face, or if a dog comes flying around the corner to bark at him (let’s talk about that in another post). Sometimes it’s not (like when he spooks at the unmoving dog he didn’t see before and damn near concusses me).
In both the arenas at the farm, Foster has ‘spooky’ corners, mostly related to blind spots in the paths where horses approach the arena. In the outdoor arena, this terrible-awful-no-good-corner also coincides where two rather large, barking dogs hidden behind a wall. It’s an occasionally frustrating environment, but it’s just a part of what we have to work with right now.
Yesterday, the dogs’ owners took them out briefly and was walking behind the wall and around the dreaded corner. Although often in clear sight, and although the dogs were quiet as could be, Foster was distracted. I asked him for his attention back, and he gave it about 75%.
I know it was only 75%, because when a twig snapped (cracked quietly?) about 20 feet away, he jumped sideways.
Spooking at something you are scared of is one thing. Being distracted by unusual stimuli is also one thing. Looking for things to spook at, well that’s something else, and that’s where I draw the line.
So I introduced Foster for the first time in a long time to the concept of a Come to Jesus moment. We went straight to work, doing simple changes on a 15 meter figure 8 until he was no longer bulging his shoulders away from where the spook happened. Then we repeated in the dreaded-awful-no good corner, until he was coming back to me and even anticipating the change, in which case I would mix up the size of the circles and keep his brain engaged.
It wasn’t punishment, but I wanted my message to be clear- we are not to go looking for things to spook at, and if that is your tactic for avoiding work, well, you will now understand that it will not work.
We finished by cantering around the arena in both directions, sending him forward and back for 4 strides at a time. Then we cooled out and practiced rein-backs (need to get these on video, I think they are coming along!) so that I could give him lots of praise for being obedient and listening.
Obviously his ego was not damaged in the least, because he continued to be his adorably cheeky self in the cross ties and lingered by the gate until I walked away upon turn out. But even knowing this, those come-to-Jesus rides will never be my favorite.
Have you had rides like mine? What was the spark to your most recent CTJ moment?
Ah yes the CTJ moments. Am I a bad horse mom because I never feel guilty about these? We had one of these recently because Addy decided that listening to cues to slow down was optional and she just wanted to canter 4ever. So we cantered 5ever. And did lots of circles. And serpentines. And counter canter. And collecting. And extending. She wanted to go, she got to go. But it was going to be on my terms, and it was going to make life difficult for her. She does what I ask, then life is easy. She does not do what I ask, life gets much harder. It wasn’t punishment for being bad, it was just channeling her energy into a way that reminded her that I’m the BossMare during our rides.
Ah, yes, I particularly remember a very similar CTJ ride with Ivan about not wanting to stop from the trot. Ahh, the memories!
Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy :). Estella and I had that moment yesterday, too. It’s freaking hot and you’re dying from the heat but won’t slow down? Let’s canter for dayz then ;).
A few weeks ago my mare decided she could no longer stand the sight of or be quiet at the mounting block. So we stood there, walked around it, moved it, until she no longer felt it was spooky. Not my favorite ride, but I guess it was a necessary CTJ type of thing.
That’s definitely a very worthy CTJ discussion! Funny how sometimes they can change their minds about something they see so often!
We have had CTJ moments over the exact same situation. He typically gets the message quickly though!
Best to nip those invent-a-monster tendencies in the bud!
Our CTJ moments generally involve Copper being distracted because how dare I bring him in the barn when every single other horse is out grazing. What if something bad happens and his mares all run without him? ha. Then its always great fun when something does happen and the mares do run without him…smart horse suddenly has no brain!
When other horses start running, it’s hard to keep your brain intact!
how is it that our home arenas – the ones the horses see more than any other – can be the spookiest? one whole long side of our arena apparently houses trolls and under the right circumstances my mare will spook at plain old bird song. it is irritating, to say the least lol. i like your point about not making the CTJ about punishment – just getting their attention back. i try to give my mare plenty of reasons for thinking that *i* am much more interesting than anything around her. doesn’t always work tho lol
Seriously- you would think home is much ‘safer’ to them than competitions! Never will understand that one.
Strangely enough, I have them with Eli when working on walking and halting. He’ll get bored or frustrated, stomp hoof into the ground after a halt, and thereby buying himself ten more walk-halt transitions.
I had one of these the other week! Mine was giving me issues with wanting to canter. Just didn’t want to go forward to step into the canter one bit. So guess what Mr. Grumpy Pants: just because you don’t want to canter, doesn’t mean you’re getting out of work! You’re gonna trot your little heart out, full of circles, with so much energy. After several rounds of the arena and circles in between, I asked very politely for a canter. He jumped right to it after that!
I am so much better at the CTJ under saddle than on the ground. This is literally my exact strategy — you will not bulge that shoulder or give that corner the hairy eyeball and we will circle here approximately nine thousand times until you are completely relaxed, doing all kinds of transitions, and you will LISTEN gosh darn it.
Very cool text!
Oh yes, many a time. Never fun to deal with in the moment but after a few CTJ moments, it’s nice to not have to deal with it for a while. 🙂
Yep yep yep. Whether its legit spooking or the horse having an ADD day, doing a figure 8 or other exercise to get their attention back is such a useful response.